Over Fields of Fire: Flying the Sturmovik in Action on the Eastern Front 1942-45
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During the 1930s the Soviet Union launched a major effort to create a modern Air Force. That process required training tens of thousands of pilots. Among those pilots were larger numbers of young women, training shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. A common training program of the day involved studying in 'flying clubs' during leisure hours, first using gliders and then training planes. Following this, the best graduates could enter military schools to become professional combat pilots or flight navigators. The author of this book passed through all of those stages and had become an experienced training pilot when the USSR entered the war.
Volunteering for frontline duty, the author flew 130 combat missions piloting the U2 biplane in a liaison squadron. In the initial period of the war, the German Luftwaffe dominated the sky. Daily combat sorties demanded bravery and skill from the pilots of the liaison squadron operating obsolete, unarmed planes. Over the course of a year the author was shot down by German fighters three times but kept flying nevertheless.
In late 1942 Anna Egorova became the first female pilot to fly the famous Sturmovik (ground attack) plane that played a major role in the ground battles of the Eastern Front. Earning the respect of her fellow male pilots, the author became not just a mature combat pilot, but a commanding officer. Over the course of two years the author advanced from ordinary pilot to the executive officer of the Squadron, and then was appointed Regimental navigator, in the process flying approximately 270 combat missions over the southern sector of the Eastern Front initially (Taman, the Crimea) before switching to the 1st Belorussian Front, and seeing action over White Russia and Poland.
This is a quite unique story of courage, determination and bravery in the face of tremendous personal adversity. The many obstacles Anna had to cross before she could fly first the Po-2, then the Sturmovik, are recounted in detail, including her tough work helping to build the Moscow Metro before the outbreak of war. Above all, Over Fields of Fire is a very human story - sometimes sad, sometimes angry, filled with hope, at other times with near-despair, abundant in comradeship and professionalism - and never less than a large dose of determination!
Aviation Regiment (820 ShAP). Wrecked German vehicles and equipment – the work of Soviet aviation. The wreckage of destroyed German aircraft. Two unknown members of 805 ShAP, c 1944. Anna next to her Il-2, c 1944. Doktor G. Sinyakov known as ‘The Russian Doctor’ (centre) and two POW pilots saved by him N. Maiorov (left) and D. Kashirin (right). Anna proudly wearing her awards and decorations, 1960s. Anna standing beside an Il-2. Anna grasps the propeller
with fear that my family might fall under occupation. My mum had written me that the Fascists were very close to our Kouvshinovskiy District. The Red Army liberated the city of Kalinin on 16 December. Torzhok hadn’t been held by the Germans but they had destroyed it completely. “So many churches, ancient cathedrals – they razed it all to the ground, those antichrists”, my mum wrote. She further advised that Konev’s headquarters3 had been located not far from our village and his officers were
department presented me with a gift – a parcel from the home front. The most interesting moment was that on opening the parcel I found a tobacco pouch on top. “To a dear soldier from Marousya Koudryavtseva – as a keepsake” was embroidered on the pouch and inside there was a photo of a pretty girl. In her letter Marousya asked the young combatant to give the Fascists a real good bashing and come back home soon and victorious. And there was so much in that parcel carefully laid out under the
B.D.Sheiko – still quite a young chap – checked our knowledge of gunnery. Like us, he had apparently just found himself in the ground-attack regiment. “So, how should we aim when shooting rockets?” We asked him almost with one voice. “Well, you put the crosshair on the armour glass4 over the target and get it roasted!” “And how do you set the electric ejector for bomb delivery?” “It depends on what you’re bombing. You can set it on single, batch or salvo”, he answered. “Tell us,
infantrymen were on the run, the tanks crawling in all directions, crushing their own soldiers. Take that, you bastards! For everything we’ve suffered! The ammo was running low and I turned my plane towards home. I glanced back to check if everyone was still with me – and a nasty chill ran down my back, then I felt hot and my mouth got dry: Zoubov’s plane wasn’t there…Where was he? How could that be? A pilot was shot down and I didn’t notice? It meant now there were only three of us left. The